My first week with the bullet journal.

My first week with the bullet journal.

Bullet journaling has been on my radar for a while now. This analog method of keeping one’s life organized seemed like just the sort of thing I would love, and it’s not that different from how I’ve been keeping track of the balls in the air lately, but I stillfound the whole process super intimidating.

I thought I might enjoy using a bullet journal, but I dreaded the idea of learning to use a bullet journal.

After procrastinating on this for months (or maybe years) I finally devised a plan that appealed to my inner stationery addict: I ordered a new beautiful notebook and put a start date on my calendar.

That just happened. Like, a week ago. I’m no expert, but the experience of what it’s like to get started with bullet journaling is still fresh in my mind.

bullet journal daily list

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

1. Jump in. If you wait until you feel like you know how to do this thing before you start, you’ll never start. This is one area where you must learn by doing.

2. It’s okay to start with the good stuff. Many bullet journalers advocate starting with a cheap spiral notebook so they don’t wreck their “nice” journal. I see the wisdom in this approach. But I didn’t follow it.

I love nice journals, and the idea of starting with a 50-cent notebook from Target held zero appeal. I think that’s one of the reasons I procrastinated on this thing for so long. Once I ordered a nice journal, I was eager to put it to good use—even if it meant making a few mistakes along the way.

About that journal: I ordered a Leuchtturm 1917, dotted, in navy. (I wanted anything but black, so I didn’t get my bullet journal confused with other notebooks and journals already in use at my house.)

I always have a nice supply of pens on hand. My favorites for the last few years have been these Staedtler fineliners.

bullet journal monthly close up horizontal

3. Keep it simple. When I began, I only began with three things: I sketched out a one-page monthly log, a two-page future log, and that day’s daily log. (The links below will explain what those things mean.)

You’ll quickly learn what works for you: I didn’t think I would want a monthly to-do list, but I keep thinking of stuff I’d add to it if I’d made one. Next month, I’ll create a monthly to-do list to go with that monthly log.

4. Add things slowly. My first “extra,” in addition to the monthly calendar, future log, and daily log, was a chart to track my workouts. I re-established my relationship with P90X3 last week, and I knew from experience that I had a hard time with the tracking, and tended to lose my logsheet. So I pulled out some pens and a ruler and copied the workout chart straight into my bullet journal.

I added my first “collection” shortly thereafter. I was at the library doing some research when I came across the name of a movie I wanted to watch. Where am I going to write this down? I thought. Or maybe I should just email it to myself. And then I realized: this is exactly what “collections” are for in the bullet journal. And so I made one, not because I was eager to add another layer of complexity to my bullet journal, but because the system is designed to track and hold exactly that kind of information, and it was time to put it to use.

bullet journal p90x3 page horizontal

5. What you need will become clear. After a few days of using the journal, I realized I was really missing one thing I loved and relied on from my old cobbled-together day sheet system, and it was the rough blog plan for the week ahead I recopied each day, as it evolved, onto a fresh day sheet.

6. Get inspired. There’s so much practical and inspiring bullet journal info on the web. Find some inspiration—but try to stop yourself before you get overwhelmed. These were my favorite resources for getting started:

How to bullet journal at the Lazy Genius Collective
How I use my bullet journal at the Art of Simple
Two words: bullet journal at Carrie Willard’s blog. (I especially like her habit tracker, similar to the one shown here.)

I looked at a slew of weekly layout ideas on the web, and couldn’t find any layout that did what I wanted it to do … so I made my own, and it works beautifully. I may tweak it as time goes on, and the bullet journal gives me the flexibility to do that.

I’m only one week in, and I still have lots to learn. But my first week of bullet journaling has gone wonderfully well, and the whole process has been so much smoother and less-overwhelming than I thought it would be.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the bullet journal system in comments. I’d especially like to hear your best tips, tricks, and tutorials for getting the hang of it. 

P.S. You can now purchase my Bullet Journaling for Book Lovers webinar and a Reading Journal Kit!

My first week with the bullet journal, plus tips for getting started yourself.

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127 comments

  1. After reading your post I just KNEW I was going to love this idea. I’m now a week in and was absolutely right. I’m a list person, so a regular planner’s boxy calendar approach never appealed to me. I also adore the idea of keeping these little guys and looking back over my life when I’m older.

    I do have a general question, though. For the collections, are they mixed in with your daily posts or do you put them towards the back of the journal? My organized nature cringes at the idea of them intermingling with the daily posts, but I guess that’s what the index is for?

    • Cynthia says:

      My question exactly! I’ve just started my new journal but need to get this settled before I go on. What do others do?

    • Anne says:

      I mix them in. That’s what the index is for. 🙂 (And it IS freeing not to have to worry about exactly how much space to leave for each thing.)

      • Cynthia says:

        Thanks! I like that method too. In the end, I have reserved a few pages in the middle for collections, with coloured tabs.

        • Kelli says:

          I was thinking of starting at the front with my daily & monthly logs and then adding collections starting from the last page working backwards. That seems like it might work and make them easy to find, but then I’m still waiting to get my new beautiful journal to start it all in 🙂

  2. Lori East says:

    I am juuuust starting with my bullet journal. I did hold off buying a new book for the first week or two, but today I am trolling pen-and-paper sites. I didn’t really need an excuse for a new book (or a new pen), but it’s handy to have the excuse just the same.

    So far, so good with the journal. I actually feel like I am better able to focus on today without all the clutter of “I’ve got to remember to do that next month/next week/next year,” if that makes sense? I am, though, still working on checking back in with the journal at the end of the day. It’s logical to do, I just need to build the habit. (I will admit, too, that I do still use my Erin Condren lifeplanner, just as a safety net until I feel like I hit my groove with the bullet journal. I live in fear of forgetting a major commitment.)

    All that said, I do use Google calendar for my family so we all know where we have to be when. My son is a senior, so while I don’t actively homeschool him anymore, he can put his daily schedule there so I know what he has going, and all three of us know where everybody else is at any given time.

    As I said, so far so good with the bullet journal, though, so…YAY!

  3. Sammy says:

    Thank you for this article! I read up more with the links you provided about this journaling/organizing method and I think I really could benefit from it. I ordered my journal today! I’m really excited to start journaling!

  4. Lora Bryant says:

    I’ve intended to read this post for days now and finally got around to it. I’m seriously contemplating giving this a try. Although I love my digital calendar, I haven’t found an app that works for me for task lists and note-taking. I still find myself writing on post-it notes all the time. When I do manage to take some notes or put some tasks in my phone, I rarely go back to them to monitor my progress. If anyone else is in the same boat about wanting to start bullet journaling for tasks/notes but keep your digital calendar, are you seeing any conflicts with trying to manage the two systems in two different ways? Thanks for all the handy tips and resources!

  5. Tara says:

    Hi Anne! You mentioned that you had created a weekly layout that was working well for you. This seems to be the one piece to the bullet journal that I am struggling to nail down (well, and a massive amount of future appointments/events). Are you still using a weekly layout and would you be willing to share a photo of yours here or on IG? Thanks for always providing so much good stuff. Between your MMD Kindle deals, blog posts and your podcast, you keep my days happy, happy!

  6. ja says:

    Hi! Its great to see there is still some love for hand writing. For me it just has something that typing cannot substitute.

    I have been journaling for 15 years and using to-do lists in a separate notebook for 10 years now. It turns out the system i developed over time is somewhat of a very crude version of the bullet journal system, but it includes the migration feature.

    I would recommend everyone to keep using it, and most importantly, keep it simple; I´ve seen some pictures of extremely decorated journals with a lot of letter types and stuff. While it looks awesome, there is a strong chance youll get tired of doing that and stop using the journal. It also takes away the raw power of the system, which is, in my opinion, is the ability to download your thoughts on paper as soon as they happen. You should be able to be completely free in your notebook, its for you and just you, not for showing off.

    If you keep using it, i can guarantee something very powerfull will happen over time: eventually you´ll come to realize that almost EVERYTHING you write down will get done.
    in my case, i came to this realization around the 3rd year of using it.

    Regards from Mexico

    • ja says:

      And by get done, i mean things you didn´t even remember you wrote down. That is also why i mostly try to write constructive and positive things in this notebooks and avoid writing down any kind of negative stuff.

  7. Raynore Jones says:

    I really really need to see you cobbled together daily sheet up close and personal. It looks like what I need

  8. Jena says:

    I ‘ve been been bullet journaling since March, and I absolutely love it, it’s great! I love the Leuchtturm notebooks! Mine is Orange, and I’ll be moving into an olive green one soon! I’m really stoked about it. It’s really helped me get my mind together!

  9. Sarah A says:

    I have been struggling with getting organized lately. I recently went back to work after 5 years off and cannot keep up with all the irons in the fire. I’ve been contemplating removing some things….letting them fall to the wayside, but those are the things I really care about. I keep thinking “if Beyoncé can do it….” and find a way to get one more thing done. I’ve looked at goal setting tools, planning tolls, and calendars galore. However, none of them are working for me. I deal in distractions all day long at work, and then dread starting anything because I know I’ll be interrupted. This is the first I’ve heard of bullet Journaling and I’m excited to give it a try!

  10. Lisa says:

    Hi, Anne: I love your post about bullet journaling. I’ve been doing it since October and now find myself faced with the momentous task of starting a new journal for 2017. I also purchased the dotted Leuchtturm this time around, but the dots intimidate me. Do you have any tips or helpful hints for working with those dots? My handwriting tends to go off the rails. Oh, and this is the most amazing system ever. I am now SUPER organized, and I can’t even describe the feeling of deep satisfaction when I make a big honking X through a completed bullet! Thanks for everything, and Happy New Year!

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